This article intends to give an overview of the development of academic institutions in Soviet Central Asia. In the 1920s, the Soviet Academy of Sciences organised an impressive number of “expeditions” to Central Asia; this was followed by the opening of “bases” and “branches” of the Soviet Academy in the Central Asian regions and, finally, by the establishment of full-fledged national “academies” (1943 in Uzbekistan, 1946 in Kazakhstan, 1951 in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, and 1956 in Kyrgyzstan). The establishment of academic institutions was decided for practical purposes (like the study of the regions’ specific natural resources) but also for highly symbolic ones. The author looks at who the leading figures and directors of the new institutions were, very briefly discussing their ethnic and professional backgrounds. In view of the Soviet nationality policy (which is not discussed in the article), leading positions were often attained by “local” scientists not for scientific merit but according to the person’s ethnic background. It should be mentioned that several of the founders of academic institutions in Central Asia, such as the Turcologist A. N. Samoilovich (executed in 1938), were persecuted in the 1930s. Unfortunately, the whole aspect of Stalinist repression of scientists (and their subsequent slow rehabilitation and, partly, reintroduction into the academies) is not mentioned in the article; this may be due to the circumstance that the author had to rely, in the first place, on Soviet sources which use to omit or downplay these tragedies and their consequences for the orientation of academic research and teaching.
Although the institutional chronology indicates similar patterns of development in all five republics, important differences can be discerned. The author’s comparisons show that, for example, the Kyrgyz Academy obtained a strong biology mainly due to the evacuation of Soviet academics to Kyrgyzstan during wwii, while Turkmenistan did not benefit from the wartime evacuations at all; and that the Kazakh Academy maintained strong institutional ties to Russia, while in Uzbekistan “there was a strong emphasis on Uzbek singularity over Russian norms and a dearth of connections to Russia” (261). With the help of statistical data and figures, the author discusses the (even if compared with the US) huge percentage of PhDs and especially of female scientists among the populations, arguing that Soviet science in Central Asia was, at least in terms of human capital, not far removed from Western standards. This makes the tremendous decline of sciences in these republics since the late 1980s even more visible; in the post-Soviet era, budget cuts and political neglect as well as “purges” and emigration virtually destroyed the once prestigious scientific bases in the area. By comparison with the study of international relations, law, and economy, the maintenance of natural sciences institutions was not high on the new nationalists’ agenda. In response, in 1992 the presidents of the academies of sciences of the five Central Asian republics and of Azerbaijan issued an urgent appeal to their respective governments, asking for more resources to prevent “the loss of talented youth to governmental [!] and commercial structures.” This interesting document is provided in English translation in an appendix to the article; unfortunately, E. W. Sievers does not indicate whether this appeal had any effect.